Can You Overdose on Weed (Marijuana)?

girl smoking a marijuana joint in a Washington forest

Overdosing on marijuana is typically not like overdosing on opioids, where the affected individual stops breathing and dies. Instead, marijuana overdose may be thought of more as marijuana poisoning or marijuana toxicity. People do not usually die from too much cannabis but can get very sick and require hospital care. When deaths occur, it is most often the result of an accident or injury from behaviors while under the effects of intoxication or combining marijuana with another substance.

How Much Marijuana Does It Take To Overdose? 

It’s difficult to determine how much marijuana it takes to cause a cannabis overdose because marijuana affects each person differently. The individual factors that come into play include

  • Age 
  • Weight 
  • Gender 
  • Tolerance 
  • Concurrent drug use  

Many marijuana overdoses are from accidental ingestion by children, particularly with edibles. In fact, 78% of all pediatric accidental exposures occur by ingesting marijuana edibles.

Smoking THC vs. Edible THC

You may be wondering, can you overdose on edibles? In short, yes. Edible THC is more likely to cause overdoses in adults than smoking THC because marijuana’s effects are delayed when ingested orally. While the effects of smoking THC happen almost immediately, it can take up to two hours for the effects of edibles. When the expected results do not immediately appear, people often believe they did not ingest enough and continue eating more of the drug.

Marijuana Overdose Signs and Symptoms 

What happens if you overdose on marijuana? Marijuana overdose symptoms are often more intense manifestations of the usual intoxication effects of the drug, but specific symptoms may also develop. Typical intoxication symptoms that may be intensified in overdose include:

  • Euphoria
  • Time and spatial distortion
  • Intensified sensory perception
  • Impairment of muscle movements
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Inflammation of the eyes
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Psychosis

Symptoms more specific to marijuana overdose include:

  • Panic
  • Delirium
  • Respiratory suppression
  • Jerky muscle spasms (myoclonus)
  • Loss of control of body movements
  • Airway spasms, similar to asthma

In children, lethargy and excessive muscle movements (hyperkinesis) may be signs that the overdose is life-threatening.

Cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS) is a recently recognized manifestation of chronic marijuana use. This form of chronic marijuana overdose is characterized by bouts of intense, persistent and incapacitating vomiting lasting for days. Hospitalization is often required for intravenous fluid resuscitation and supportive care.

Risks of Marijuana Overdose

One danger of a marijuana overdose — and marijuana use in general — is the increasing incidence of marijuana being laced with fentanyl and other lethal synthetic opioids. Some dealers sell fentanyl-laced marijuana without their customers’ knowledge to increase their weed’s addictiveness, thereby securing repeat customers who unknowingly become addicted to the opioid. People who do not usually use opioids are very susceptible to overdosing on the ultra-potent fentanyl, so many who use marijuana are unknowingly at significant risk when purchasing weed on the street.

Can You Die From Marijuana Overdose?

There have been case reports of adults suffering respiratory suppression from marijuana overdose similar to that seen in opioid overdose. Children are particularly susceptible to this effect.

With the legalization of marijuana in many parts of the U.S. and further legalization likely, statistic development and knowledge of marijuana overdose are in flux.

The legalized cultivation and application of cutting-edge cloning and gene-editing techniques result in increasingly more potent strains. In the 1970s, marijuana contained around 2% THC; today, strains with 20–25% THC are the norm. Nearly pure THC extracts are available.

In other words, when it comes to knowing the real risks of overdose and death from a marijuana overdose, we may have to wait a while.

Marijuana Overdose Statistics

There is controversy over whether or not marijuana overdose can cause death; however, some medical literature has documented that it can.

Even a recent death that the medical examiner documented resulting from a cannabis overdose was widely disputed in the press. The death was headlined as “the first death from marijuana exposure in the U.S,” despite evidence to the contrary.

The lack of a definition of what constitutes a marijuana overdose also inhibits gathering statistics. There are no statistics for direct marijuana overdoses per year or indirect deaths, such as motor vehicle accidents.

However, in 2011, there were 456,000 documented visits to emergency departments in the U.S., where marijuana was a factor. 

Marijuana Overdose Treatment 

Marijuana overdose involves supportive care, such as supporting heart function and breathing and treating low blood pressure. The two most common problems that put people in the hospital with marijuana use are psychiatric problems and cardiovascular demise.

The opioid antagonist naloxone (Narcan) is often used to treat a life-threatening overdose. This is because marijuana exerts differing degrees of effects on opioid receptors in the brain, which is likely why marijuana overdose can result in respiratory distress.

An important part of marijuana overdose treatment involves identifying and treating overdose from other drugs that may be present. 

Marijuana Overdose Prevention 

More must be done at the legislative level to regulate marijuana edibles to help prevent overdose. For example, Colorado state law limits the THC dose to 10 mg per edible, but single-serving edibles have been identified as containing as much as 100 mg of THC.

Here are some tips to prevent marijuana overdose:

  • Do not mix marijuana with other drugs.
  • Wait to feel the full effects before deciding to take more, especially with edibles.
  • Do not drive or engage in activities requiring concentration for three hours after inhaling and six hours after ingesting marijuana.
  • Keep marijuana (especially edibles) out of sight and reach from children and pets.

If you are concerned about your marijuana use or the drug use of a friend or loved one, The Recovery Village Ridgefield can help. Call today for a confidential discussion with a representative who can help you learn more about addiction treatment.

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Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.